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‘I see young people exploited into organised crime but our unconventional methods save them’

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A West London social worker has won an award for his work with adolescents at risk of criminal exploitation and serious violence which uses an unusual technique.

Kudakwashe Kurashwa, 35, and his team in Hillingdon use an approach where developing a strong relationship between the social worker and the young person is their priority.

Firstly, the young people get the opportunity to choose the social worker they would like to work with.

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Once the pair begin to work together, the social worker will engage in social activities with the young person, such as going to the gym, so that they can “invest in the relationship before talking about the issues”, Kudakwashe, the Team Manager, explained to MyLondon.

“We want them to be on the driving seat in the change process,” he said.

The team deals with cases that range from child sexual exploitation to radicalisation to exposure to organised crime groups and being forced to engage in child criminal exploitation activity such as drug dealing or county lines.

“Normally, the issue is the children present as criminals but the reality is they are victims of exploitation,” Kudakwashe explained.

These young people are often labelled “hard to reach or engage with”, but the team works “intensely” to engage with them.

The approach appears to be working, as Kudakwashe says the team have had “l oads of success stories” in the three years since it was set up.

County lines boy who was frequently missing now trains to be a barber

One of these was a 16-year-old boy from a different local authority who was involved in county lines.

Kudakwashe said the boy was a victim of child criminal exploitation.

He was going missing on a frequent basis and was found in areas he had no links to such as Brighton and Portsmouth.

His relationship with his mum had “completely broken down”, and she was really struggling, not knowing how to handle the situation.

The boy was “presenting as dis-regulated and challenging” and had dropped out of school.

His case was transferred to Hillingdon children services, where he selected a social worker.

The social worker started to see him, sometimes two or three times a week, but it took a long time for the relationship to develop.

They began going to the gym together and the boy started to open up about his experience in the community.

“That was the starting period,” said Kudakwashe.

“At that point we were on the brink of issuing care proceedings as we didn’t think we could manage the care of this young person.

“We were looking for a placement outside of the borough and this was communicated to him and he made the decision that he didn’t want that.

“It was a teachable moment.”

The social worker told the boy what he needed to do, and they continued to work together.

He “shifted his position” and went for more than six months without going missing.

He started his barbering course, engaged with his social worker, and got support for his mental health with forensic CAMHS.

The situation continued to improve, his mother became more confident in managing his needs, and he is engaging well with St Giles, a charity which works with children at risk of county lines, according to Kudakwashe.

Now, they are about to close the case.

“We felt the relationship with the young person made a significant difference,” said Kudakwashe.

“He has been attending review meetings and is really proud of what he is doing.”

Thanks to information the boy disclosed, police even jailed an individual involved in criminal exploitation.

Kudakwashe, who lives in the East Midlands and has worked with Hillingdon Council for five years, said successes like this make social work “a satisfying profession”.

“Social work is about promoting the sanctity of human beings and their dignity,” he continued.

“You hope these young people will develop insight and become the best versions of themselves. But these goals might not be achieved without help. I find it very satisfying that we are able to find ways in very difficult circumstances to provide the best support we can.”

But he added: “We have not reached the pinnacle of what we can offer. We must learn and try to change ourselves and our practices.”

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Kudakwashe was awarded T eam Leader of the year at the Social Worker Awards 2021.

He said he feels “deeply honoured” to have been selected, but that it would have been better for the award to go to his team.

Speaking about Kuda, one young person he has supported says: “Since you have been helping me so much has changed…You have helped make things good at home so I no longer have to have more than one home”.

Julie Kelly, Director of Service Delivery with the Hillingdon Adolescents Team, said: “Kuda’s innovative approach to one of the most challenging areas in children’s social care has resulted in better and safer outcomes for children, less children entering care and acts as a vehicle for transformation and change. This impacts on his team and associated children and families but also across all service areas and partners. Kuda’s vociferous approach to learning and leadership makes us all better social workers.”

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https://www.mylondon.news/news/west-london-news/i-see-young-people-exploited-22487152